(26) Consequentialism: Problems with the Lesser of Two Evils Ethic

Christians often invoke the lesser of two evils (LOTE) concept as a way of making decisions in difficult circumstance. I argue, however, that this ethic is in direct opposition to the Christian ethic revealed to us by God, as it calls us to enjoin ourselves to evil rather than maintain holy obedience and trust in God's power through our weakness. In this episode, I identify eight problems found in the LOTE ethic.

  • A huge thanks to Joseph McDade for his generous permission to use his music: https://josephmcdade.com/
  • Thanks to Palmtoptiger17 for the beautiful logo: https://www.instagram.com/palmtoptiger17/
  • Discord Discussion Board: https://disboard.org/server/474580298630430751 
  • The 80% (My Book): https://www.amazon.com/80-Conservative-Evangelicals-Prove-Relativists-ebook/dp/B07RDPW2NZ/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=j.g.+elliot&qid=1573560697&sr=8-1
  • Various reflections related to consequentialism: https://www.dckreider.com/blog-theological-musings/category/pragmatism-and-consequentialism
  • Political Centrists (the And Campaign): This is a good podcast which talks about the polarization of political parties and how we can't compromise truth or love. While I may have some issues with the idea that you can promote a tool which embraces evil, I like that Christians are recognizing the need to push back against their parties. https://www.prestonsprinkle.com/theology-in-the-raw/2019/10/14/761-politics-white-evangelicalism-and-race-relations-in-the-church-justin-giboney
  • Protecting Family Against Intruder 1: https://thefourthway.transistor.fm/episodes/rebuttal-would-you-really-allow-an-intruder-to-harm-your-family
  • Protecting Family Against Intruder 2: https://thefourthway.transistor.fm/episodes/episode-19-rebuttal-would-you-really-allow-an-intruder-to-harm-your-family-part-2-the-practical
  • Why Christians Should Consider Abstention from Voting: https://www.dckreider.com/blog-theological-musings/why-christians-should-consider-abstention-from-voting
  • Abstention and Countering Political Idolatry: Will be released 2/15/2020 - https://www.dckreider.com/blog-theological-musings
  • John Howard Yoder Quote: 
    • One way to characterize thinking about social ethics in our time is to say that Christians in our age are obsessed with the meaning and direction of history. Social ethical concern is moved by a deep desire to make things move in the right direction. Whether a given action is right or not seems to be inseparable from the question of what effects it will cause. Thus part if not all of social concern has to do with looking for the right handle by which one can “get a hold of” the course of history and move it in the right direction.
      Whichever the favored “handle” may be, the structure of this approach is logically the same. One seeks to lift up one focal point in the midst of the course of human relations, one thread of meaning and causality which is more important than the individual persons, their lives and well-being, because it in itself determines wherein their well-being consists. Therefore it is justified to sacrifice to this one “cause” other subordinate values, including the life and welfare of one’s self, one’s neighbor, and (of course!) the enemy. We pull this one strategic thread in order to save the whole fabric. We can see this kind of reasoning with Constantine saving the Roman Empire, with Luther saving the Reformation by making an alliance with the princes, or with Krushchev and his successors saving Marxism by making it somewhat more capitalistic, or with the United States saving democracy by alliances with military dictatorships and by the threatened use of the bomb.

      Whether Jesus be the Christ or not, whether Jesus the Christ be Lord or not, whether this kind of religious language be meaningful or not, most types of ethical approach will keep on functioning just the same…The cross is not a recipe for resurrection. Suffering is not a tool to make people come around, nor a good in itself. But the kind of faithfulness that is willing to accept evident defeat rather than complicity with evil is, by virtue of its conformity with what happens to God when he works among us, aligned with the ultimate triumph of the Lamb.

      The vision of ultimate good being determined by faithfulness and not by results is the point where we moderns get off. We confuse the kind of 'triumph of the good,' whose sole guarantee is the resurrection and the promise of the eternal glory of the Lamb, with an immediately accessible triumph which can be manipulated, just past the next social action campaign, by getting hold of society as a whole at the top. What in the Middle Ages was done by Roman Christianity or Islam is now being attempted by Marxism and by democratic nationalism. In spite of all the difference in language, and in the detailed vision of just what a good society would look like (and as a matter of fact even the visions are not that different), the real uniqueness of each of these positions is only that it identifies differently the particular moral elite which it holds to be worthy of guiding its society from the top. We may well prefer a democratically controlled oligarchy to some other kind. We may well have a choice between Marxist and Islamic and other statements of the vision of the good society. But what our contemporaries find themselves practically incapable of challenging is that the social problem can be solved by determining which aristocrats are morally justified, by virtue of their better ideology, to use the power of society from the top so as to lead the whole system in their direction.
       Once a desirable course of history has been labeled, once we know what the right cause is, then it is further assumed that we should be willing to sacrifice for it; sacrifice not only to our own values but also those of the neighbor and especially the enemy. In other words, the achievement of the good cause, the implementation in history of the changes we have determined to be desirable, creates a new autonomous ethical value, 'relevance' itself a good in the name of which evil may be done...
       Christ renounced the claim to govern history...what Jesus renounced was thus not simply the metaphysical status of sonship but rather the untrammeled sovereign exercise of power in the affairs of that humanity amid which he came to dwell. His emptying of himself, his accepting the form of servanthood and obedience unto death, is precisely his renunciation of lordship, his apparent abandonment of any obligation to be effective in making history move down the right track... the universal testimony of scripture is that Christians are those who follow Christ at just this point.
       ..."The Lamb that was slain is worthy to receive power!" John is here saying, not as an inscrutable paradox but as a meaningful affirmation, that the cross is not the sword, suffering and not brute power determines the meaning of history. The key to the obedience of God's people is not their effectiveness but their patience (Rev. 13:10). The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of the right, which is of course the justification of the use of violence and other kinds of power in every human conflict. The triumph of the right, although it is assured, is sure because of the power of the resurrection and not because of any calculation of causes and effects, nor because of the inherently greater strength of the good guys. The relationship between the obedience of god's people and the triumph of God's cause is not a relationship of cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection... we find the most desperate encounter of the church's weakness (John was probably in exile, Paul in prison) with the power of the evil rulers of the present age. But this position is nothing more than a logical unfolding of the meaning of the work of Jesus Christ himself, whose choice of suffering servanthood rather than violent lordship, of love to the point of death rather than righteousness backed by power, was itself the fundamental direction of his life. Jesus was so faithful to the enemy love of god that it cost him all his effectiveness; he gave up every handle on history.

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